Purity at Expense of Unity

Sep 25, 2015

By Mark Putnam

On Monday, two members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) — Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College — announced they would leave the organization in order to avoid its potential rupture in the wake of their decision to permit the hiring of gay and lesbian faculty members who are married or celibate. Before that announcement, two other institutions had already quit the CCCU, saying they would not remain if some of its members hired faculty in same-sex marriages.

The situation facing CCCU is a modern-day version of an ancient problem. For millennia, the Christian church has confronted recurring choices between purity and unity. Historical distance has drained the intensity of stressful moments of disagreement, however, and over time we have become dispassionate readers of ancient conflicts. Concerns over eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol seem odd through a 21st-century lens, as do expectations for circumcision, and for some, honoring the Jewish Sabbath.

But while the conflicts in the Christian church today are different, they follow a familiar pattern. They begin with a controversial issue manifested in human attitudes, beliefs or behaviors, but they are quickly recast as an essential theological question. Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to discern where theology ends and social or political ideology begins. Political discourse seems to be driving much of our theological debate today, and our society now interprets the label “evangelical” as a political alliance much more than as a group of churches with a redemptive mission.

Regardless of their origins, theological and ideological disagreements abound in the church today as they always have. What may be changing is the extent to which the debates are spilling over into related or affiliated organizations that claim a faith-based purpose. Higher education is no exception, as institutional members of the CCCU are feeling the strain of theological and ideological difference pulling them apart.


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6 comments on “Purity at Expense of Unity

  • @OP – What may be changing is the extent to which the debates are spilling over into related or affiliated organizations that claim a faith-based purpose. Higher education is no exception, as institutional members of the CCCU are feeling the strain of theological and ideological difference pulling them apart.

    If humans eventually become civilised, religious delusions will play no part in the running of “higher educational establishments”. Such arrangements are oxymoronic!
    Religions may then be studied in secular educational establishments, as minority interests within history, sociology, and psychology courses.

    Religious “purity”, was at its best for society (as long before the establishment of the Roman church), when it was practised by individual hermits in remote caves!



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  • The situation facing CCCU is a modern-day version of an ancient problem. For millennia, the Christian church has confronted recurring choices between purity and unity.

    This is clearly true, the history of religious schism is one of constant tension between a single creed requiring centralised supervision (purity) and priesthood structure (unity).

    The CCCU was formed with a mildly centralising role and now there is disagreement on the central creed (after 40 years, which is pretty good going).

    Why should we who are not Christians be even remotely interested?

    Because religions agree to centralise and unify their creeds in the face of a loss of, or over a perceived need to increase, political influence. Notice that the CCCU is based in Washington DC. The fact that the CCCU is experiencing schism says something about a disagreement in Christian ‘education’ circles over how they need to address a political issue. The issue appears to be over gender rights.

    The political problem is probably that gender rights have recently made great advances, and CCCU members disagree over the correct response. One side wants to double-down and reassert (as they see it) core creed of mysoginy, homo-hate and queer bashing. The other side wants (as they see it) to see the CCCU embrace Christ’s creed of universal love and for the CCCU to be a broad church (accepting difference).

    What lesson can we draw from this?

    … it is sometimes difficult to discern where theology ends and social or political ideology begins

    Indeed.

    Organised religions are political organisations. Most rely on in-group / out-group dynamics to create internal group cohesion and a political constituency. Challenging that dynamic undermines the religion.

    If, like me, you’re increasingly persuaded that organised religion is evil then supporting out groups is an essential part of what we have to do.

    Gay rights are something that most of us support because it makes moral, social and fair sense, with or without a religious dimension. Undermining religions is a free bonus.

    Remember that next time someone asks you for your opinion on gay rights. Speak up, speak out, speak clearly.

    Peace.



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  • OP :

    Higher education is no exception, as institutional members of the CCCU are feeling the strain of theological and ideological difference pulling them apart.

    Aw shucks.



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  • “Higher education is no exception, as institutional members of the CCCU are feeling the strain of theological and ideological difference pulling them apart.”

    Don’t confuse what they do in their “colleges” with real higher education. It’s just a more (or less) form of indoctrination.



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